Sitting a GCSE early was once the preserve of a high-flying elite, but is now increasingly common in schools.
However, there is growing concern about whether it could lead to pupils dropping maths, particularly post-16, which has led to a blame-game between headteachers and the Government.
While league tables and floor targets are one way for the Department for Education to encourage schools to focus on pupil attainment, groups such as the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education have warned that such pressure can be an incentive for schools to act in their own interests rather than that of pupils.
The DfE recently published a report that concludes there is little benefit to early entry. The report shows that there has been a shift in the type of pupils entered early from higher achievers to those on the CD borderline. It points out that, although early entry gives lower-achieving pupils opportunities to resit, it does not seem to improve the chance that they will get a C or above at age 16.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, believes the statistics do not reflect the complexity of decisions around early entry. "Of course schools should be helping students to achieve the highest grades they are capable of, and it would be wrong to enter students for exams purely based on league tables," he said.
"The Government has drawn hasty conclusions from bald statistics. There are legitimate reasons for entering students for GCSEs early. For students with low self-esteem, for instance, taking exams early and getting a D can give them the confidence to try for a higher grade."